EXPLAINER: How old was Juana Osmeña when she gave birth to Sergio Osmeña Sr.: 14, 16 or 20? Other takeaways from 'Big Reveal': father of Cebu's Grand Old man was Antonio Sanson who, Tomas Osmeña says, could've been convicted of statutory rape. Juana 'must have inspired' single moms.

Sergio Osmeña Sr. (left) and Antonio Sanson. (Photos from Britannica and Filipino Genealogy)
Sergio Osmeña Sr. (left) and Antonio Sanson. (Photos from Britannica and Filipino Genealogy)

SCIENCE has settled almost a century-and-a-half-old mystery -- history and genealogy enthusiasts agreed -- when forensic genealogist Todd Lucero Sales announced Friday, June 2, 2023, who the father of Sergio Osmeña Sr. was.

Who sired the country's fourth president (1944-1946) and Cebu's Grand Old Man? Not Pedro Lee Singson Gotiaoco, a Chinese tycoon, but Antonio Sanson, a Chinese mestizo merchant-landowner "from an illustrious family."

Both were linked to Juana Suico Osmeña, who was to be Don Sergio's mother. Prominent "dons" in Cebu's Spanish era and neither one could marry the young Osmeña's mother. Thus, the child that Juana gave birth to on September 9, 1878 was considered born out of wedlock, illegitimate, a "padre no conocido" (father unknown).

And the identity of the father had been "a closely guarded secret" the Osmeña family, or the Sansons and Gotiacos, never publicly talked about.

But 145 years later, the times changed. The Osmeñas wanted to identify definitively the father of Cebu's great patriarch. A project to determine Don Sergio's paternity through DNA testing was initiated by two young Osmeñas. At the official announcement last June 2 at Casino Español de Cebu, present were two descendants of Don Sergio: Annabelle Osmeña- Aboitiz, his oldest living granddaughter, and Maria Lourdes Bernardo, Annabelle's niece.

[1] 'CONCLUSIVE' RESULT. Although Osmeña family members, including Don Sergio, must have long known or suspected who the father was, Google content and other published articles -- most of them, said Mrs. Aboitiz -- have named, as it turned out, the wrong person. The project was to "correct history" or, more precisely, history's account.

Given the universal trust in DNA tests, being now known to be more accurate and reliable, the result was readily rated by the Osmeñas as "conclusive." Y-chromosome comparison between a grandson of Don Sergio and descendants of Sanson and Gotiaoco "unquestionably" and "finally" resolved the issue: the father was Antonio Sanson.

Saliva samples were sent last March to the US via EasyDNA. A month later, the results came: No room for doubt, they told the public, only nine of 23 markers matched in the Osmeña-Gotiaoco set while all, or almost all (99.982 percent), the markers matched in the Osmeña-Sanson set.

[2] THE MOTHER'S AGE. If there was any wrinkle in the news about the unlocking of the mystery, it must have been about the age of the mother when Juana Osmeña gave birth to Don Sergio. The media-reported ages were not the same.

SunStar, quoting Wikipedia, said Juana was 14. Inquirer.net, not naming its source, said she was 16. Esquire, also with no named source, reported 14. Rappler, quoting former Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, a grandson of Don Sergio, said, "around 15."

Tomas, referring to his great grandma's age, said the father could've been convicted of statutory rape. The age of statutory rape at the time we don't know -- under the Revised Penal Code, it's below age 12 -- but Tomas's reference underscores Juana Osmeña's tender age when she became a mother.

But how old was she actually? A short bio of Juana Osmeña, cited by veteran writer Gavin Sanson Bagares, says she was born in 1858. Don Sergio was born in 1878, which would place her age at 20 when he was born. (Gavin told me Sunday, June 4, that Antonio Sanson was his great grandfather's older first cousin. "Don Sergio and Lolo Madong Sanson were second cousins. But you know at the time, there was a huge disparity in social standing between the Osmeña's and my Sanson line.")

[3] JUANA'S PARTNERS. There were two probable fathers, thus the public doubt about Don Sergio's paternity. Juana Osmeña -- in an item sourced to historian and National Artist in Literature Resil B. Mojares -- was close to Gotiaoco as they lived in the same block and he often visited the bakery owned by Juana's mom. Juana would buy kerosene and matches at Gotiaoco family's store. They were rumored to have an affair. Still, Mojares cautioned GMA News that interviewed him, "everything is speculation."

Another published item -- attributed to a Don Sergio granddaughter who cited historian Michael Cullinane -- said that even as a child, he'd visit the Sanson farm in Borbon and, older, during the Tres de Abril uprising, he hid in the farm.

[4] HYPER SECRECY. Tomas Osmeña told Rappler that during that period, society was "very conservative." It was a major scandal then: Juana Osmeña, single, being impregnated by a married man, whom obviously she couldn't marry.

Don Sergio himself was known to have refused to talk about his parentage, shunning conversation about his own mother. Mrs. Aboitiz told media an anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, that then senator, the late John "Sonny" Osmeña once asked his grandpa, "Who was your father?" Don Sergio was said to have "slightly slapped" Sonny with the rebuke, "Never ask that."

Not just the convention of his time but his career as a politician and public servant -- Cebu governor, founder of the Nacionalista Party, House speaker, senator, secretary of public instruction, and the first Visayan and only Cebuano to become president -- must have prompted him to shut out the circumstances of his birth.

[5] NOT THE ORDINARY SINGLE MOM. Mother and son were supported by Paula Suico Osmeña, the second wife of Severino Osmeña, said to be a "powerful leader" in the local Chinese community.

While the young Sergio grew up with a single mom, he was not without resources and family support to obtain education from the better schools. The finances of his mother's family apparently made some difference. Could he have prepared himself for the sterling public life ahead of him if he hadn't gone to excellent schools? He studied at Colegio de San Carlos in Cebu, then in Manila: San Juan de Letran College and University of Santo Tomas, where he finished law. He placed second among the bar topnotchers.

[6] ANONYMOUS SAMPLE DONOR. For the DNA test, Tomas Osmeña, grandson of Don Sergio and son of former senator Serging Osmeña, provided DNA test sample from the Osmeñas. Ronnie Borres Sanson -- grandson of Julian Sanson, a first cousin of Antonio Sanson -- supplied for the Sansons. Someone gave a sample for the Gotiaocos on condition of anonymity. Clue: he is a widely prominent public figure in Cebu.

[7] JUANA OSMEÑA STREET. People still wonder who was Juana Osmeña after whom is named a long stretch of road that runs parallel to Osmeña Blvd. from the Capitol side to vicinity of Fuente Osmeña. They used to joke that Juana Osmeña is the female version of John (or Juan) Osmeña.

Juana Osmeña St. must have been named to honor Don Sergio's mother, a tribute to the single mother who produced Cebu's only president. Speculate on it, until they will show that it is not so, that it's another Juana Osmeña.


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